The best of branded content

Larissa Bannister gets the verdict from three different perspectives on the big consumer brands attempting to woo customers through providing entertainment.

THE CAMPAIGN - ORANGE WEDNESDAYS

The UK is the only country in which cinema admissions are on the up (by 1 per cent in 2005), something Orange claims is owing in part to its Orange Wednesdays film sponsorship programme, created by TBWA\Stream. Orange users text a shortcode number and receive a two-for-the-price-of-one ticket voucher to their mobile phone, which can be redeemed at any of 2,000 mobile terminals across the UK.

The sponsorship is aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds and seems to have succeeded in its aim to increase cinema visits and drive the association between the brand and film: 83 per cent of Orange customers and 59 per cent of non-customers are aware of the Wednesdays programme and Orange is the number-one brand associated with film, according to TNS research.

THE VERDICTS

KARL FRENCH - TV REVIEWER, FINANCIAL TIMES

The idea behind Orange Wednesdays is smart and simple: create a mutually beneficial association between Orange and the film world, specifically film-going. It's easy and it already works - apparently, between 3 per cent and 4 per cent of UK cinema admissions are now accounted for by Orange Wednesday users. As if to confirm the effectiveness of the whole campaign - and the executives at Orange must have loved hearing this - Radio Five Live's commentator at the recent Holland-Argentina World Cup game pondered on air whether this would prove to be an "Orange Wednesday", confident that the listeners would get the pun.

IVAN POLLARD - PARTNER, NAKED

TV advertising is not dead, but it is ageing. Many people think the future of advertising lies in the art of branded content. So if this is the future, how is it shaping up?

Orange Wednesdays takes an interesting approach to content by latching on to film. This is an initiative designed to give people what they want (free cinema tickets) in return for being wanted. It's an alternative approach to creating your own content - piggyback someone else's but do it in a way that allows you to create complementary stuff of your own.

Sponsoring free cinema tickets is not really branded content, but creating those cinematic trailers (Cleese, Astin, Swayze etc) is. And I think it works brilliantly.

IMRAN FINLEY - STUDENT, SOUTHAMPTON UNIVERSITY

In today's on-demand digital age, it seems odd that Orange has chosen to promote the film industry instead of its own 3G services. This attempts to maintain customer loyalty in a saturated market, but doesn't appeal to me as a mobile customer. What I want is cheap calls, not voucher schemes.

Most people my age don't go to the cinema any more, and two-for-one cinema tickets is of little interest to me. If public awareness was the sole aim of the campaign, then they've been successful, and they may have enticed new customers, but as a customer of a different network I wouldn't switch solely on the promise of cinema tickets.

THE RATINGS: 4 out of 5.

THE CAMPAIGN - BACARDI B-LIVE RADIO

Available over the internet and via compatible mobile phones 24 hours a day, all over the world, Bacardi B-Live claims to be the first global online radio station to be funded by an FMCG brand. Created by Cake, it has no talk, ads, news or idents, just dance music, including exclusive remixes of tracks such as The Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight and the S-Express theme tune. During the launch period, white-label vinyl copies of some of these were distributed on dance floors at clubs.

The station targets all adults over the legal drinking age and was launched in May as part of a global programme of gigs and events that aim to increase the brand's association with dance music. Branding for Bacardi is limited to the site and visuals streamed to the mobile phones.

THE VERDICTS

KARL FRENCH - TV REVIEWER, FINANCIAL TIMES

Bacardi B-Live radio is apparently the "first brand-created global music radio station providing pure uninterrupted music from around the world". But is it a good thing? It is if you like non-stop "uplifting party anthems" and the absence of interruptions from DJs. There's also a neat logic at play in that the station, available online and via mobile phones, specialises in a brand of music that benefits from/requires an altered state of some kind or another, so tuning in should kick-start in the listener a Pavlovian reaction and the sudden appetite for a shot or two of rum, if not something stronger.

IVAN POLLARD - PARTNER, NAKED

Bacardi B-Live radio is another way of doing the same thing. They take hold of music and serve it up for free but with a bit more B in it. The positioning of Bacardi and the spirit of the music they play fit together beautifully. This is content that is enduring, served up where their audience will want it (on their phone and on their computer) and has a huge potential reach. I am not sure it is quite enough to make me choose it instead of Xfm or Galaxy but it might make it on to my repertoire.

IMRAN FINLEY - STUDENT, SOUTHAMPTON UNIVERSITY

Expensive music on your already radio- and MP3-enabled phone that sometimes doesn't work, a sure thing. When attempting to use this service on my compatible handset, I had to give some personal information, which I would not have done had I not been reviewing this product. While I was stewing over this invasion of privacy, the server crashed and I gave up.

Even if the service worked, I would not spend time fiddling around with my phone to pay for mass-produced dance music, a genre that could not be further removed from previous affiliations with Latin American music.

THE RATINGS: 3 of 5.

THE CAMPAIGN - VODAFONE TBA

The Vodafone TBA series of TV shows and events, created by OMD and Fuse, is intended to build an association between the brand and music. The TV series consisted of six one-hour shows broadcast on Channel 4 and E4 and available to Vodafone 3G customers. Each episode featured an act performing a spontaneous gig in an unusual venue - such as Snow Patrol at the Royal Opera House or Massive Attack on the roof of the Oxo Tower. Vodafone has also launched a larger event, the Vodafone Live Music Awards, and runs a website (vodafonemusic.co.uk) where fans can discuss the shows and find out about, and sign up for, forthcoming TBA gigs.

THE VERDICTS

KARL FRENCH - TV REVIEWER, FINANCIAL TIMES

Vodafone TBA crams several good ideas into a very simple format, mainly by fusing the old-fashioned secret gig with the more recently minted notion, borrowed from rave culture, of the identity of the venue being withheld until just hours before the event kicks off. Then there's the balance between the exclusive - the few lucky fans winning tickets for the gig itself - and the inclusive, with the monthly gigs being broadcast on Channel 4. Finally, there are the carefully, imaginatively chosen venues themselves - most recently The Zutons in fine form at the Pier Head in Liverpool.

IVAN POLLARD - PARTNER, NAKED

Vodafone is not all that ambitious, but it has legs. It is just smart to put music on Live! and build the connection between the capability of the network and the content of music. Not all that inspirational, but good, workmanlike stuff. Maybe this is a little closer to sponsored content than branded content.

IMRAN FINLEY - STUDENT, SOUTHAMPTON UNIVERSITY

The association between a mobile phone network and live music is at best a tenuous one. While other brands may have been successful in this process, Vodafone has failed spectacularly by choosing to follow its competitors in a somewhat cynical attempt to hijack youth culture through the use of already popular bands. These bands are too big, just sponsoring one of their weekly gigs does not provide any corporate association with live music. A better strategy would have been to focus on a smaller section of the music industry, such as breakthrough artists, which would at least give the impression of some genuine interest and passion for music.

THE RATINGS: 3 of 5.

THE CAMPAIGN - CARLING LIVE!

Aimed principally at 18- to 24-year-old men, Carling Live! is a series of gigs, TV programmes, sponsorships and events, created by Cake. Carling New Kings featured The Magic Numbers, Graham Coxon and Kano playing live and was turned into three half-hour shows screened on Channel 4. Carling Live 24, meanwhile, was a series of gigs across a 24-hour period featuring acts including Kaiser Chiefs, Ian Brown and Dirty Pretty Things.

The brand also has named sponsorship of eight of the UK's top music venues and is the headline sponsor at the Reading and Leeds Festivals, where it runs a scheme encouraging festival-goers to swap their warm cans of beer for cold cans of Carling. Carling Sessions, monthly gigs featuring acts on the verge of breaking through, aim to associate the brand with up-and-coming acts, as does its sponsorship of busking at London Underground stations.

THE VERDICTS

KARL FRENCH - TV REVIEWER, FINANCIAL TIMES

Carling Live!, like Vodafone, uses Channel 4 as its public outlet and is in its own way as ingenious and certainly as effective as the Vodafone campaign. In fact, the presence of Carling on the music scene - and it is an increasingly ubiquitous brand - is an object lesson in the marketing magic trick of disguising the reality of a given product. So the connection to the likes of Dirty Pretty Things, Ian Brown, Graham Coxon and other Carling Live! performers lends a veneer of grubby chic to what is otherwise almost an objectively uncool product - a weak, cheap lager.

IVAN POLLARD - PARTNER, NAKED

Carling makes more of a fist of using music. There is an idea behind the 24-hour content: people get involved, the branding is more obvious and the shots of the crowd holding their plastic pints of lager are no mere coincidence. This is the merger of experiential marketing and content creation in a way that feels very "Carling". This gets closer to making me think well of the brand and it is focused enough to get me involved.

IMRAN FINLEY - STUDENT, SOUTHAMPTON UNIVERSITY

Carling Live! is an excellent contrast to Vodafone as an example of how to successfully execute a brand association campaign. Although ultimately still driven by profit rather than a genuine love of music, Carling has managed to integrate the brand with live music in a way that makes it easy to overlook its corporate motives. It has done such a good job that people might even be willing to overlook the taste. The long-running and overarching approach means that, for me, Carling has become almost synonymous with live music events. Certainly a more sophisticated approach than its "love football" ads.

THE RATINGS: 5 of 5.

THE CAMPAIGN - AUDI CHANNEL

Audi Channel is broadcast all day, every day on Sky and is also available online at www.audi.co.uk. Launched in October 2005 by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Audi is the first brand to hold a self-promotional broadcasting licence from Ofcom.

The channel is a mix of branded programmes specifically aimed at Audi prospects and more entertainment-led shows that run in peaktime. The former include celebrity test-drives, while the latter range from interviews with famous figures such as Sir Alex Ferguson, to Innovators, a show about business leaders such as Simon Woodroffe, the founder of Yo! Sushi.

According to research by the Simpson Carpenter Group, 20 per cent of new car buyers are aware of the channel and 70 per cent of Audi enquirers have watched it.

THE VERDICTS

KARL FRENCH - TV REVIEWER, FINANCIAL TIMES

Audi Channel is another first, in this case the "first branded content channel", ie. the first time that a channel has become one vast marketing tool/extended ad for a single product. It is inevitably porn for petrol-heads, and while the promotional material insists it's not just about cars, it is all about smugness. The GQ editor, Dylan Jones, claims that Audi is "cool", although if so, it's a kind of middle-aged, bourgeois version of cool, and you can't help but conclude that the promise of programmes built around Alex Ferguson, Tony Wilson and Antony Worrall Thompson represents three good reasons to avoid tuning in.

IVAN POLLARD - PARTNER, NAKED

Audi TV. Here you can see the petticoats of the future showing. This is great, big, bold thinking brought to life. Audi controls the content to create an environment in which to sell their cars and they reward the customer for viewing. Neat, transactional and effective stuff. While I admire the scope, I wonder about the economics in the longer term.

Branded content works on a transactional level - I give you something you like and you like me in return. Each of these examples does this to a greater or lesser extent, but none do it well enough to replace advertising completely.

But getting advertising and content to work together is a mouth-watering prospect - one of BBH's sumptuous ads for Audi in the middle of a test-drive programme with Ryan Giggs all served up on Audi TV. Now there is contented branding.

IMRAN FINLEY - STUDENT, SOUTHAMPTON UNIVERSITY

Audi has what many corporations have long desired, its very own channel with a self-regulating licence. Unfortunately, no-one is ever going to watch it. A potential Audi customer may have the cash, but not the time to watch what is essentially a poor man's Top Gear. Having watched the DVD, I'm utterly uninterested in Audi and its channel. Even the name is wrong - who's going to want to watch something called the Audi Channel?

Naming the channel after the brand means any reviews of the cars will fail to inspire even the most trusting of consumers. A more subtle approach is needed to get me to watch this.

THE RATINGS: 2 of 5.

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